Ask the Expert: How Do You Do a Spin-Up and Is It Different From a Surge or a Sprint?

I received a great question recently in the ICA Facebook group from Sarah asking what the difference between a spin-up and a surge is. We had an Ask the Expert post from 2013 with a similar question from Angela asking, “How exactly do you teach a spin-up? Is it different from a sprint?” 

I have edited the previous article below and updated it with Sarah’s question. 

A spin-up may be a surge in cadence, but a surge isn’t always a spin-up.

A surge is a general word, not specific to cycling, that simply means an “increase” in something. There can be a surge in electricity; water can surge in a river as the current gets stronger or as in the surge of the tide. You can surge your speed in a car or when running or on a bike; it simply means go faster. You can even have a surge of thoughts in your head when you are thinking of a lot of things at once!

A “spin-up,” on the other hand, is a technique specific to cycling. It means increasing the cadence over time. It is usually done fairly quickly and is different than doing a cadence ladder of one or two minutes at each cadence. You would do spin-ups to train your higher end cadence abilities or to practice smoothing out your pedaling technique. For example, you can go from 80–85–90–95–100 rpm over 30, 15, 10, or even just a second or two, then back down.

Spin-ups are not sprints because they are not explosive in nature. A true sprint requires an acceleration to a very high cadence over fractions of a second, and will only be maintained for a handful of seconds.

Now let’s discuss how to teach spin-up drills in your classes.


  1. Hi Jennifer, a little late to the spin-up party (your article was 5 years ago!).. but I’m wondering when you say to “back down” do you also manage your cadence down (i.e., 100-95-90-85-80) or would you just tell your students to come right back to 80?

    1. I just have my class come back to 80 and hold again for another 1:30 or so…then take 25-30 seconds to build back up.

  2. Thank you. I will give that a try…I seem to have the 20% (lots of military guys at 0500 makes for a tired crowd). I’ve done that before where I count it out (1,2 1,2) but as soon as I stop they all go back to their comfort zones. I’ll pay closer attention to the BPMs when I put the profiles together.

    Thanks again for the advice!

  3. Author

    Hi Deanne,

    can you just use the bpm of the song? That’s why we put the bpm on all the song suggestions, so you can choose the songs by whatever bpm you want them to ride at (or near).

    In the Spin-ups profile, I begin with an 80 bpm song and have them pedal to the beat at 80 rpm. Then to let them feel what 100 rpm is like, I briefly choose a song from my ipod that is 100 bpm, and let them ride there one minute. Then I go back to the 80 bpm song and start the spin ups from 80-100 rpm (although the 80 bpm song stays). I rarely ever do something like that, but just in this case to give them a floor and a ceiling for their cadence, and only for that first working song after the warm-up.

    For all other profiles, I simply use the bpm of the song and then have everyone ride to the rhythm. If they are the type that can’t hear the beat (I’ve read perhaps 20% of the population can’t really hear a beat), then I simply have them follow my legs.

    Hope that helps,

  4. This is great information, as always! Do you know of any app or download available that you can play over a song to help riders match the desired cadence? I’ve tried counting or having them mirror my cadence, but that isn’t always effective. Our gym is on the barest bones bikes (they aren’t even all the same brand of bike and some don’t have water bottle holders!) so I’m having a hard time figuring out how to really coach certain concepts. I’m about to buy a metronome and hold it by my mic! Hahaha!!

  5. Great explanation! i will be listening to the audio master class, and hope to put a new class together soon. Thank you so much for the prompt response:)

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